Review of Hazel Thornton’s book “What’s a Photo Without the Story?”

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Janet Barclay holding a copy of Hazel Thornton's book :What's a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy"

One of the latest organizing books to hit the market is by Hazel Thornton of Organized for Life… and beyond.

If you’ve been reading Your Organizing Business for a while, you probably know Hazel, either through the blog or your other organizing connections. She’s been participating in the Productivity & Organizing Blog Carnival since 2011, made her 50th contribution in 2018, earning the status of Megastar Blogger, and has sponsored several editions, including  Organizing for Your Legacy, Organizing and Mental Health, and Decision-Making. In addition, she’s written seven guest posts and has been featured in an organizer interview. She’s also been a happy client of mine since 2012!

For all these reasons, I wanted to read her first non-fiction book, Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror. I wasn’t familiar with the case, but it gave me an excellent overview and piqued my interest enough to watch and appreciate Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders when it came out on TV.

I had yet another reason to read Hazel’s latest book, What’s a Photo Without the Story?: How to Create Your Family Legacy.

My long-time interest in family history was re-awakened a few years ago when Hazel researched my pedigree chart. Her findings enabled me to conduct further research and piqued my interest even further. I’ve since declared myself the family historian and have gathered most of the old photos and documents my parents collected during their lives. I’ve been wanting to organize what I have in a way that will be interesting to other family members, especially the younger generations. It’s been a struggle to figure out how to go about it, so I was excited to learn that Hazel was writing this book and even more excited to read my copy.

The content is very well-organized, with chapters devoted to telling the stories, adding photos, delving into genealogy research, and even dealing with other types of memorabilia. Each chapter offers suggested activities to choose from depending on what you have, your level of interest, and the amount of time you have available. It became very clear that what I’m looking at probably isn’t a project to be completed, but a hobby to enjoy throughout my life. That awareness has removed some of the pressure I’d put on myself so now I can just relax and enjoy the process.

Realizing that there’s an abundance of how-to information on the internet, Hazel doesn’t try to reproduce it all in her book. Instead, she recommends online and offline resources for each activity. She also maintains resource lists on her website so you can always access up-to-date information. She even provides tips for doing your own online research, including a tactic that was new to me which will be valuable when doing business or personal searches.

I was mildly disappointed, but only because I was unrealistically expecting a step-by step formula to get me from disorganized to having something I’d be proud to share with my family, and I didn’t get that. What I got instead was a better understanding of why I’m stuck and why there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all process. As Hazel explains, before you can decide what you’re going to do or how you’re going to do it, you need to have a specific goal in mind. I should have realized that!

I recommend this book to professional organizers who don’t offer photo organizing services but would like to give suggestions to their clients, as well as to anyone who has boxes of old family photos and/or other memorabilia and no idea what to do with them.

I recommend...

A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on December 22, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Wow, Janet, thanks for the thorough review! I think it will help other readers to know that, for you, “It became very clear that what I’m looking at probably isn’t a project to be completed, but a hobby to enjoy throughout my life. That awareness has removed some of the pressure I’d put on myself so now I can just relax and enjoy the process.”

    It’s fun to see our history together in print. Add: PONM website, Introvert Retreat, Scottsdale NAPO2014!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on December 23, 2021 at 1:39 pm

      So much history! I can’t believe I missed so many important pieces of it.

      I just realized that what you quoted could apply to anyone who’s having trouble getting organized, with a slight modification:

      “It became very clear that what I’m looking at probably isn’t a project to be completed, but a new way of living. That awareness has removed some of the pressure I’d put on myself so now I can just relax and enjoy the process.”

  2. Avatar Janet Schiesl on December 23, 2021 at 8:00 am

    I enjoy reading Hazel’s blog post, so can’t wait to read her new book. I’ve added it to my reading list. Thanks for the review.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on December 23, 2021 at 1:40 pm

      You’ll like it too – it’s like sitting down and talking with Hazel!

  3. Shifting from 2021 to 2022 - Janet Barclay on January 6, 2022 at 8:04 am

    […] If this interests you, read my full review on Your Organizing Business. […]

  4. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on January 17, 2022 at 9:46 am

    I started my ancestor scrapbook in 2002 and have tracked my genealogy since the 80s. This year, I am updating the ancestry scrapbook where the photos of all my family and my husband’s family will be stored. I purchased Hazel’s books to get inspired to add the stories we talk about when looking at this book. Now that both of our parents have passed I am going back and reorganizing the book using my family tree as a guide. I added a printable kinship family tree report to it so I can number the photos to the people in the picture. The kinship report shows what relationship they have with my kids. It’s a wonderful way for the kids to see the lineage and the relationship with them. I hope they appreciate it.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 17, 2022 at 12:50 pm

      I hope they do too – that’s a lot of work, but what a wonderful labor of love! You will get a lot of pleasure out of doing that, whether your kids appreciate it or not. Even if they don’t now, they may become more interested if they have kids of their own.

  5. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on January 17, 2022 at 11:24 am

    What a lovely review of Hazel’s newest book! I love how you explained what you hoped to get from it, but instead got something even more valuable. It helped you define your goal and remove the pressure of producing “a something.” Instead, you are leaning into this life long hobby of investigating your family’s history and putting it together in a way that’s meaningful for you.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 17, 2022 at 12:53 pm

      I can’t wait to get back into the flow!

  6. Avatar Kim on January 17, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Thanks Janet
    After reading your post, I downloaded Hazels book on kindle and I am halfway through it. As you know I have been going through all of my parents photos and there are a lot of them. I divided them up and gave my siblings their pics of themselves and their kids. After reading some of Hazel’s book, I am looking at and thinking about the photos (especially those older ones) differently. Thanks for doing this review. It was perfect timing for me.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 17, 2022 at 12:55 pm

      That’s great, Kim – I love it when that happens! I hope you enjoy the process of going through your parents’ photos.

  7. Avatar Seana Turner on January 17, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    I have a client who has a “vague interest” in his family’s history. He’s lacking a clear direction for what he actually wants to achieve, and I think this is causing him to be stuck. Reading this review reminds me that if I want to help him in this area, we first need to clarify where we are going! I also love that Hazel keeps updated online resources because things change quickly these days.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 17, 2022 at 12:56 pm

      It would definitely be worth it for one or both of you to read Hazel’s book. She shares a lot of possibilities and it might help him choose his focus.

  8. Lucy Kelly Lucy Kelly on January 17, 2022 at 1:39 pm

    Hazel’s book has been great reality check for helping me help clients break down the mountain of photos/geneological paperwork they have.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 18, 2022 at 1:01 pm

      Yes, she helps you see it CAN be a huge undertaking, but doesn’t have to be if you’re not that into it.

  9. Avatar Diane N Quintana on January 17, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    This is a lovely review of Hazel’s book. We (my husband and I – mostly he) have done lots of research into our families and have a wealth of information. He has some pictures which makes it fun but I have letters, newspaper clippings, and telegrams dating back to the 1800’s. About 20 years ago I organized everything into binders (and in plastic sleeves) so that family members would be able to access this information and learn something of the time period – as well as family history. I wish I had had Hazel’s book then!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 18, 2022 at 1:03 pm

      Diane, it’s wonderful that you have those old documents! I have a few, and they’re just so interesting! Sometimes they reveal something you didn’t know, and other times they just raise more questions. Such a fun hobby!

  10. Julie Bestry Julie Bestry on January 18, 2022 at 2:18 am

    I loved Hazel’s book and also reviewed it for Goodreads and Amazon, so all I can say is this is a great partnership, Janet, with you reviewing what Hazel has written. I love that the book works at so many levels, from people who just want to make sure they “do no harm” (but otherwise skip photo and genealogy obligations) up through folks who want to do it all. And this is the best kind of review, because you don’t just tell about the author and the book, but you connected to what you’d hoped to get out of it and what it actually delivered for you. Thumbs up, all around!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on January 18, 2022 at 1:04 pm

      Thank you, Julie! Your support and kind words mean the world to me.

  11. […] Review of Hazel Thornton’s book “What’s a Photo Without the Story?” — AND — Shifting from 2021 to 2022 (Janet Barclay) […]

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